Sunday, June 26, 2011

It's Soju Cocktail Hour: Soju Bloody Marys

Typhoon Meari hit the Korean peninsula this Sunday morning, leaving our prospects of hitting up the beach bleak. The rain wouldn't relent, so we relented and cozied up with some fine homemade Bloody Marys from fresh summer tomatoes. Here's how you can make some of your own to ride out the storm.

Step One: 
Chop some fresh tomatoes into chunks, and drizzle a bit of olive oil over them. Season with some salt and pepper. Roast in your toaster oven until the tomato looks soft and delicious. Don't overdo it too much; ten to fifteen minutes is all you need. If you want to skip the hassle, use tomato juice, but I would recommend V8 from Costco if you're in Korea-- Korean tomato juice is really sweet. If you want to try Korean tomato juice, no worries, just add extra salt.

Step Two: 
Throw your roasted tomatoes into a blender. I use one medium to large tomato for each small drink you want to serve. Add hot sauce to taste and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Blend it all up nice and good. Check your consistency; if your Bloody Mary mix so far is really thick like tomato sauce, add a splash or two of water. Don't add too much, you've still got the soju that is going to thin it down as well.

Step Three: 
Strain your concoction. No one wants to be drinking seeds and tomato skins in their cocktail.

Step Four:
Pour your mix into a glass full of ice. Add a shot of soju. I chose the brand Cool 168 (so named because it contains 16.8% ABV) that we found at Mega Mart because it looked like a fun bottle. A lot of people prefer to shake this cocktail instead of stir, so go right on ahead if you've got the equipment. Otherwise, give it a swizzle around.

Step Five: Garnish that bad boy! Squeeze in some lemon juice, add olives, pickles, or whatever other tiny veggies you've got. Then taste test. If it needs it, feel free to season further with salt, pepper, hot sauce, or herbs like rosemary or basil.

Now, drink up! You've worked hard to create this delectable work of art, so enjoy. 
May all your typhoons pass quickly. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Having A Cold in Korea

So here is just a quick video to show you what you can do when you get a cold in Korea.

Getting a cold is just one of those little annoyances in life that happens to most people. I usually get a cold twice a year or so. Korea was a beast on me when we first moved here. I spent the first five months in and out of colds and bronchitis. The meds I got from the pharmacy always kicked some butt. Nothing really kept the colds at bay for that long, but each episode went away rather quickly. 

I've never been prescribed anything like this brown powder before. I'm sure the pills did there part too, but I'm giving the credit to the goofy drink mix. Oh, magic brown liquid, you are a friend of mine. Now that you're nice and healthy, you can go out and get yourself some ramen. Yeehaw!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Baseball Top Ten: How Busan Does America's Game

Our first adventure to Sajik Stadium was just that, an adventure. The songs, the food, the cheers, and the pageantry were all on display. Here's my top ten list of things that make Korean professional baseball (Busan Lotte Giants specifically) great.
                                                                         10. My students' Dads play for
the team - No joke here at all. Two of my students have dads that play for the Giants. I don't think it's right to say who they are, but one of them starts in the field and the other is a relief pitcher. It's really cool to hear about. Every once in a while they'll come in to class super excited and tell me, "My father struck out two batters!" or "My father hit a home run!" It's pretty freakin' awesome, to tell the truth.
                                                                        9. Foul balls go to kids under 8. This is a strict rule. Any time a foul ball goes into the stand, everyone chants at whomever caught the ball to give it to a child, specifically one under eight years old. A student of mine, Harry, once told me how he got a foul ball at the game. Harry is 11, and he was too old for the crowd. He said he wanted to keep it, but was forced by the crowd to give it to a younger spectator a row ahead of him.
                                                                                                                             8. Scantily clad bat-girls - Back in America, the role of bat boy is usually filled by a player's son. Here, bat girls add to the entertainment of the entire evening,  at least for the first viewing of a Korean baseball game.
                                                                                                                             7. There are many a song to be sung -
The lyrics are in
Korean and made to fit the players' names. There's a bunch of classic, standard songs made into cheers: Champs-Elysee (classic French), Glory Glory Hallelujah (classic religious), Rivers of Babylon (classic rasta), If You're Happy and You Know
It (classic kindergarten), Cum on Feel the Noise (classic crappy-glam-metal), What's Up (classic 90's 4 Non-Blondes), all culminating in The Maple Leaf Rag (classic Joplin). Plus there are songs for when common things happen on the field, for example, an out at first base:  "Oh-Noo-Nai" which translates to "Someday."
6. Mini Cooper bullpen cars. In the 80s and early 90s, bullpen cars were used to usher relief pitchers to the mound in the MLB. Being the Brew Crew fan that I am, I remember seeing Jose Orosco being driven up to the mound in the sidecar of a Harley. Here in Busan, the local BMW dealership sponsors the bullpen car, a Mini Cooper convertible. It's pretty awesome to see. I'm a big fan of bullpen cars in any form. Especially if it's a car for high school girls and men going through midlife crises.
                                                                                                                  5. Convenience stores in the stadium with my choice of beer. Do you hate paying $7 for a Miller Lite at a MLB stadium? I do as well. Screw mass
produced American beer in general, but it gets even worse when you have no choice and have to pay way too much for it. Enter the concourse area in Sajik stadium and enjoy the pleasure of in-stadium-convenience-stores. Beer fridges stocked are high. The prices are slightly elevated from the store downstairs from our apartment, but it's still less than 7,000 won for 64 oz bottle to share with friends. And yeah, it's still crappy Korean lager, but I'd rather drink a Max than a Busch Light any day, night, week, or weekend of the year.
                                                                                                                              4. Dance battle in the crowd = much more fun than Kiss-Cam. Yes, this is just what it sounds like. There is still a Kiss-Cam, but it is not the only jumbo-tron attraction in this town. Dance battles, yes, dance battles.
                                                          3. Lively spectators. I love a baseball game. Most any baseball game. Sometimes a crowd just isn't into it. Not so with the home crowd at the Giants' games. The crowd is pure electric. I've told you about the cheers, the songs, and the availability of copious amounts of beer. What elevates all of that is the dedication of the fans. They are in it until the end of every game. It's a party in the crowd and everyone is invited. Our seats were loud, super loud. It was like being back at a metal show in America, almost. It's not like metal shows have cheer leaders with a costume change per inning, but you get the point. The stands shook when the dancing girls started up. On top of that, the fans bring their party supplies to the game. Home made pompons from that day's sports sections are one of my favorites. Also the inflatable fingers, not foam, make a game day easily packable, yet fun to be at. The best comes around the 7th inning. Bright orange, plastic garbage bags are handed out to all the game's attendees. These bags are meant for stadium goers to bag their own garbage out after the 27th out, but for the 7th and 8th innings, they become Pacific-Rim-Ralley-Caps. Flopping, bubble style for the boys, Minnie Mouse style bows for the girls.
                                                                                                                                2. Fried Chicken. Growing up a Brewers fan, I know that stadium food means popcorn, peanuts, and sausages. Encased meats of all kinds grace Miller Park back in Milwaukee, but in our adopted hometown, fried chicken is king. Fried chicken in the stands is awesome. Get it inside or outside the stadium. It almost always comes with a couple of sauces and sometimes chopsticks. The chopsticks are nice, but isn't stadium food meant to be eaten with your hands. Oh yeah, get yourself a chicken glove, basically a Subway sandwich artist plastic glove, but it keeps the fingers clean and keeps the chopsticks in the box.
                                                                                                                            1. The price. Lets get real. I love the Brewers, but it can cost ton to visit the old ball park. $50 can get you to the lower level on the first base side for a game back in Milwaukee. In Sajik, we had premium seats for a grand total of 10,000 won a ticket. Lower level, right above an in-stadium 7-11.        
Lotte Giants Game from Shane Ebel on Vimeo.

Busan baseball, how I love thee, let me count the ways. Oh wait, I just did.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beomeosa: Temple of Fish from Heaven

On most of the must-do tourist lists and in guidebooks, Beomeosa rates as one of the most important tourist sites in Busan. It was one of the first sites I learned about while researching the city that would be my future home, and I looked forward to seeing the well-known temple. When my sister and brother in law visited Busan back in March, we spent a weekend afternoon at the temple.

Although buses run the route from the bottom of Geumjeong Mountain to Beomeosa, we decide to hike up. The hike itself is pleasant; not too steep, with cool views. Once nearer to the temple, we pass vendors selling coffee concoctions, assorted snacks, and vegetables from their garden plots. 

Once at the temple grounds, we start at a small grove that even on this pre-spring-bloom day is beautiful and hushed. Signs tell us that this is the wisteria woods. Only a few feet off the sidewalk to the temple structures, we feel secluded.  
Beomeosa was founded over 1300 years ago by a monk. A Korean Tourism website tells this story about it's founding: 
                                  "There is a well on the top of Mt. Geumjeongsan and the water of that well is gold. The golden fish in the well rode the colorful clouds and came down from the sky. This is why the mountain is named Geumsaem (gold well) and the temple is named 'fish from heaven'."

We leave the wisteria woods and go toward the main complex. Fragrant incense tinges the air as we walk by the open doors some structures. Inside, sock-footed worshipers bow before the Buddha statues or sit cross-legged on mats fingering beads. Shane snaps a few pictures of Crystal doing yoga poses, entries for a contest her yoga studio back home is holding.  
Suddenly, the placid atmosphere is interrupted by a chainsaw. Power tools. Here. Of all places. They're constructing a new building, and lumber and bright yellow construction barriers are set up not quite out of sight. I suppose that even ancient Buddhist temples need their renovations. 
Inside the temple gift shop, we're greeted by a petite, sweet woman who tells us she used to live in the States. She helps Crystal and Nick pick out some incense and a tiny Buddha figurine they will take back as a special memento for their two year old son.                        
Beomeosa's a cool place; there's an air of zen and it's worth a see. However, it just doesn't have the magic that we thought it would after reading so much about it. I guess this temple doesn't have the flash that some other temples have, but how much flash should there be at a place of meditation and contemplation? 


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Toast Magic

The always friendly, always smiling ladies who operate our favorite toast stand right outside the gate of Pusan National University can see us coming. Those two insatiable foreigners who can't get enough of the chewy, steamy hot toasts. 
"Toasts?" you ask. Sounds like something you can just make at home, you know, with a simple slice of bread. False. Enterprising street food vendors have come up with something infinitely more delicious and awesome than that.                        
A toast (토스토) really just a sandwich that has been all toasted up on a flat top grill. You can find these toast stands all over the place, but for Shane and I, the best place is the pedestrian street right in front of the PNU entrance, a street we've nicknamed "Toast Street." Along with the toasts, Toast Street has fresh fruit smoothies, waffles, deep fried goodies, and some places that have more traditional Korean fare.                                                                                               
Each stand has its own specific recipe for making toasts (we've heard it said that in PNU, one puts on apple slices!), and we haven't tried them all, but our favorite we've had so far is at the stand directly in front of you as you walk toward the gate.                                                                                                   
The ladies start by throwing three slices of white bread onto one grill. On the other, bright yellow-yoked eggs are cracked into a mold that makes them just the right shaped square for the bread and are scrambled up with a chopstick. Back on the bread, either a slice of ham, a slice of processed American cheese (I know. In any other case, processed American cheese is to be shunned to the extreme.), or tuna is added, depending on your order. Then on go sauces one, two, and three: ketchup, something light orange, and mustard. Finally, they throw on small handful of finely shredded cabbage. The triple decker comes with its own paper holder so that your fingers don't get all greasy as you eat. 
Okay, so on paper, maybe this sandwich doesn't sound that appealing, but don't be fooled. These are some great, comfort foods. Really top notch satisfying and delicious. Oh, and have I mentioned that the ham or cheese version costs only ₩1,500 and the tuna upgrade just ₩2,000 (about $1.40 and $1.80)?         
We've taken almost all of our out of town visitors for a toast. It's become a ritual for us that on Friday nights, we might head out for a celebratory, end of week toast. After a long week at the hagwon, sometimes we just need to fill our belly with something stuffed with egg and cheese.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peace and Love from Busan: Version Shane.0

Homesickness from my point of view.
Rose and I are both going through it right now. One of the oddest things about my homesickness is that I find myself missing something that isn't even at home anymore, my Grandma. She's been gone for about 2 years and i still think about her every single day. I get in the elevator to leave my apartment and check my hair, and I think to myself if Grandma would approve or hate it, the latter being the usual since middle school. I also think about how she'd be happy for my weight loss. Her passing let me feel free to get away from home and go on this grand adventure with Rose. I wonder a lot about how she would feel having me on the other side of the world. She's hate it, and I'd love her all the more for it.
We are royally set up for homesickness at the moment. My sister is about to give birth to twins any day, we are planning our wedding, many of the friends that we've made here in Busan are heading back their homes, and we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Rose's mother and sister on their vacation. All of these things make it difficult for us. I miss making beer. I miss talking sports with my best friend. The other day I low-moaned when my mom mentioned Culver's.

Something I miss the most is being close with so many people. Here, in the land of the morning calm, Rose and I rely on each other and only each other. The newest member of our family, Diga, has been a tremendous source of comfort. I think I now understand why people think of their pets as children, but I know it's not the same thing.
Don't think the wrong things, I am so happy we came to Korea. I don't regret signing on for another 6 months. We've got amazing friends here, but they're not family. Busan is home right now, and that's amazing. I didn't have to deal with snow all winter, besides two days. I can be at an oceanside beach in 20 minutes from my front door. I have lost 40 lbs, so far. I am more in love with Rose than I ever was before. Life is great.

    The bed I make is in Busan. It's home, for now.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Peace and Love from Busan

To my faithful readers:

As you may have noticed, May and June have been rather, err, quiet here on Soju Cocktail. I must first say sorry for all the wasted clicks while you patiently waited for the next dispatch from sunny Busan. Second, let me tell you what's been going on that kept me from sharing all the goodness.

Life has been good for Shane and I in Busan. Summer's in swing and the livin's easy. But despite this, or maybe because of it, I've been battling a serious case of homesickness. I'm pretty tight with my family and with Shane's, and not being with them for the past nine months has worn on me. Each time I packed up my little writer's bag and headed down the street to my favorite coffee shop, I found myself sifting through pictures, answering emails, studying the merits of the barista's fine work on my latte, anything to avoid confronting my sad self. See, for all the great things here in Korea, for all that I've learned and experienced and saw so far, and for how much I am content and happy with life here, this place is not my own. I have not managed to learn much of the language, and so can only speak rudimentarily with my neighbors. I know a lot about the city, but I don't read the daily paper to see about the latests scandals and news. I am a part of this place, but only peripherally so, only temporarily so. 

If this is the Lilliputian cross I must bear from time to time as an expat, well poor me. I wouldn't trade my choices or my deferred reactions to those choices for anything. Life is great. I have nine more months here to soak up all the awesomeness Busan has to offer and I'm going to use every minute of it. The beaches call to me. The mountains beg to be climbed. I'll return home again someday, but today I am present here. Thanks for coming on the journey with me. 

Monday, June 06, 2011

In the Neighborhood: Oncheoncheon Citizen's Park

I'm unsure of the actual length of the Oncheon-cheon Citizen's Park in Busan, South Korea. The stream runs through Dongnae-gu, Yeonje-gu, and Busanjin-gu, and just footsteps outside our apartment building near the Pusan National University of Education.

The sign posted near where I enter says the park's 2,062 km long. Even with my lack of metric system comprehension, I know that cannot be right. What I do know is that I love this park, and I'm really grateful for its presence.

I'm usually down at the stream at least twice a day, enjoying the green-space that the good people of Busan have provided. Here's a list of the features I think are most awesome:

13. Hand-weeded grass, bushes that spell neighborhood names, and other immaculate landscaping

12. Contests, games, & entertainment that the district frequently sponsors like the ones where we've seen traditional games, k-pop dance demonstrations, corn-flavored treats shaped like parasols, and opera

11. Large birds. There's a pair of grey herons that have been hanging around a lot since the spring, and a very nice mallard family lives up near Dongnae station. 

10. Grass that has now grown taller than me and listening to the wind blow through it. 

9. Flowers planted in uniform lines, bulls-eyes, and other entertaining shapes 

8. The near-constant stream of upgrades that make the park better every week 

7. Acupressure foot massages that soothe your weary feet

6. Visual trickery that hides away 
those ugly path blemishes from view

=5. The Q-bert-like steps, great for doggie obstacles and for sitting and enjoying a cold bottle of Cass or makkeoli on a summer night

4. Stepping stones across the stream that make your walk feel like an adventure

3. Feeling like a very minor celebri-tay because people always stop us to pet Diga (though sometimes this borders on weird, like the time Shane was asked his opinion on segregation)

2. Very well attended community aerobics and jazzercise classes

1. Side by side pedestrian and biking paths, on both sides of the stream and loads of public fitness equipment